Calgary·Video

Treasure hunter unites WWII ID bracelet with fallen soldier's family, 17 years after discovery

Len Switzer was only 21 when he died in WWII. Fast forward to 2001, and an amateur treasure hunter's metal detector alerts him to something sitting below an old school field in Edmonton.

'I was hopeful that his memory didn't fade with time and that's not the case, it's alive and it's well'

Fallen WWII soldier Len Switzer's RCAF ID bracelet was found in a field in Edmonton 17 years ago while treasure hunter Rod Edwardson was searching for old coins with a metal detector. (Supplied)

Len Switzer was only 21 when he died, flying with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) in Europe during the Second World War.

The young airman, originally from Sunnybrook, Alta., left England one day in February 1943, as part of a five-man Wellington bomber crew. 

Like 17,000 others serving with the Canadian air force, he never made it home.

Len Switzer is pictured in a newspaper cutting. (Supplied)

Fast forward to 2001 and amateur treasure hunter Rod Edwardson's metal detector alerts him to something sitting 12 inches below an old school field in Edmonton.

He was looking for old coins that day, but instead Edwardson uncovered a small, neatly engraved silver bracelet. A quick clean revealed the words 'Len Switzer', along with a tiny RCAF crest and Switzer's service number: R/76563.

It's believed Switzer lost the bracelet while on leave in Edmonton before being deployed to Europe all those years ago.

The unusual find marked the start of a 17-year mission for Edwardson to get the bracelet back to Len Switzer's family.

Rod Edwardson found Len Switzer's ID bracelet with his metal detector while searching for old coins. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"There was a connection that I had with Leonard and, especially at remembrance day ceremonies over the years, I would reflect back on him and think about who he was and hope someday I could see a picture of him and find his family and maybe put this whole puzzle together," Edwardson said.

Edwardson had articles published in local newspapers in Edmonton and Sundre over the years as he searched for surviving relations of Switzer's, chasing false leads and dead ends. 

Then, this January, he got the email he'd been waiting 17 years for. 

"Jan. 5 I was on the internet researching a younger brother of mine who was named after Leonard," said Cathy Parsonage.

Cathy Parsonage, Len Switzer's niece, was delighted to see the bracelet. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"I was doing some reminiscing and Googling. Not a lot had popped up when I jumped over to images and came across a photo of the ID bracelet," she said.

Parsonage clicked on the link and it took her to a local newspaper article from 2015, on the search for Switzer family members. At the bottom was Edwardson's email address.

Fast forward again to February 2018, and Parsonage and Edwardson finally meet for the first time, hugging in a quiet coffee shop in Didsbury, Alta., where Edwardson now lives. 

Watch the emotional reunion

4 years ago
0:32
Seventeen years after stumbling upon this family heirloom, Rod Edwardson was finally able to return it. 0:32

On the table in front of them sits a small black box. Together they open it, and Parsonage holds the bracelet in her hands for the first time. 

"You don't really know how to explain it, it's just so many things that come together," said Parsonage, who lives north of Slave Lake in Red Earth Creek, Alta.

"You see all that stuff on Facebook, those feel-good stories you're always checking out because everything connected, and now it's happening to us," she said.

The two spend time poring over the contents of Parsonage's family scrapbook, filling in some of the gaps for Edwardson, building a clearer picture of Len's life, and death.

"I was hopeful that his memory didn't fade with time and that's certainly not the case, it's alive and it's well," said Edwardson. 

Rod Edwardson hands over the bracelet to Len Switzer’s niece Cathy Parsonage at a meeting in Didsbury, Alta. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"It feels great to see the scrapbook that Cathy's put together and actually see a face that I'd had to guess at in the past, it puts some animation to this fellow that I had no clue what he looked like," he said. 

"The fact that it was lost for 60 years before Rod found it, and another 17 years from the time he found it until I found it. I just can't even believe that it's here," said Parsonage, gently rubbing the bracelet between her fingers, laughing and crying a little at the same time.

This is something that I will remember for the rest of my life.- Rod Edwardson

Edwardson says a little bit of Leonard Switzer will stay with him forever, despite handing the bracelet back to his family and completing the puzzle.

"This is something that I will remember for the rest of my life," he said.

Parsonage says the bracelet will complete her family scrapbook. She hopes to pass the book on to her daughter, keeping Len Switzer's memory alive. 

Switzer was awarded the 1939-45 Star, Air Crew Europe Star, Defence Medal, War Medal 1939-45, Canadian Volunteer Service Medal and Clasp, and was posthumously awarded Operational Wings on July 15, 1946.

His name can be found on the war memorial in Nanton, Alta. and at the Runnymede Air Forces Memorial in Surrey, England, where more than 20,000 men and women lost during the Second World War are remembered.

Len Switzer’s name features on the Runnymede Memorial in Surrey, England. (Supplied)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dan McGarvey

Journalist

Dan McGarvey is a mobile journalist focused on filing stories remotely for CBC Calgary’s web, radio, TV and social media platforms, only using an iPhone and mobile tech. You can email story ideas and tips to Dan at: dan.mcgarvey@cbc.ca or tweet him @DanMcGarvey

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